Before there was Facebook, MySpace, or Tumblr, there was CaringBridge, an online community that serves up free, easy-to-create websites for people dealing with health crises. CaringBridge was created in 1997 after friends of founder and computer scientist Sona Mehring had a premature baby.
"They asked me to call everyone. Instead I created a website," she says. For the first five years, CaringBridge was just a side project for Mehring, who was a webpage designer by trade. But eventually the site started growing fast enough that Mehring decided to make it her main career. Now the site, which allows users to crate patient care journals, guestbooks, and photo galleries, has more than 7 million registered users. The whole thing is free—Mehring runs it as a nonprofit and solicits charitable donations. "It has been a very strong financial model," she says.
Next up for Mehring: integrating the site with Facebook and other social networks, and "ensuring that we're early adopters of technology." Considering her track record, that shouldn't be difficult.